November Newsletter

Starting today, AD4L newsletters will be available to absolutely everyone (scroll down to read it!)!  Subscribing is still the easiest way to ensure you don’t miss out on a single post or newsletter (and you will receive the occasional bonus too!).  However if email isn’t your thing you can keep in touch via Facebook and Twitter as well.

To share the newsletter with your studio and friends:   In the viewer below click ‘expand’.   Hovering the cursor over the newsletter you will see sharing links at the bottom of the page, click on one of these to go to a sharing page.   From here you can download a  .pdf, email, like/share on facebook, tweet, and much more.

In response to Diabetes Awareness Month, this month’s newsletter discusses diabetes as it applies to the dance studio setting.  My mother is a Type II diabetic who is now living with the long term, life altering medical conditions that can accompany a life with Type II (vascular disease, kidney failure, neuropathy and amputation).   Caring for an individual living with these conditions, it saddens me to know that children are now being diagnosed with what used to be ‘adult onset’ of diabetes (Type II).  In essence, this diagnosis is a predictor of the life span of these children.   Eating lots of sugar is not a predictor of diabetes, and early detection followed by changes in lifestyle are key in preventing the life altering medical conditions that can occur.   Please read and share with friends and family in dance, and life!

 

Wishing you wellness in dance, and life!

 

 

 

 

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Accelerate Your Progress in Dance

YOU have the ability to accelerate your/your childs’ progress in dance!    Generally when students hear this they are a bit surprised– but its true, your actions and thoughts have a direct impact on your progress.  Just as selected the best foods will give you the fuel you need to get through your long day, you can fuel your progress by following a few simple steps.

 “How can I maximize the impact of my actions & thoughts on my progress?”

 

The power of positive thinking.

Your perception of yourself in dance (& life) will impact your performance whether you dance simply because you love it or because you want to pursue a career in performance, choreography, or teaching.  Keeping a positive mindset in class will foster your ability to absorb information and corrections both mentally and physically.  Receiving constructive criticism from your teachers becomes easier when you start with a positive outlook on both yourself, and your dancing.

 What can you do when you have those moments in class when you feel discouraged and negative?

    • Take a deep breath and remember why you love to dance.
    • Do something to ‘change the channel’ – get a sip of water and tell yourself “I can do this”.
    • Remind yourself that dance is a process – your teacher is challenging you because he/she believes that you can do it!

Keep a dance journal.

Taking a moment after class (or during if your teacher allows) to write down the corrections your received, how you felt about the class, and even the exercises that were taught in the class, will help you to retain the information you received.

    •  3 positives:  Simply by writing down 3 positive things that happened in class will help you to keep a positive focus.
    •  3 corrections:  Recording 3 corrections to work on will help you to keep a positive focus where you need to focus your energy during class.
    • 3 points of gratitude:   While you are at it you may as well include 3 things/moments that occurred that day which gave you joy/made you happy.   Keeping track of the things/moments you are grateful for will help you to stay focused on the positives throughout life.  Eg.  A sunny morning,  a hug from mom/dad/sibling, a good day at school.

 Be sure to keep your journal with you and read it through (2 or 3 times would be great) before the next class.  This will remind you of the positives and of where you need to focus your attention throughout your classwork.

 

Preparation will fuel your progress.

This is a simple one, but can be hard to follow through with when life gets busy.  When you journal you are in a sense preparing your mind, this particular preparation will help you prepare your physical self for dance.

    • Prepare your dance bag before you go to bed – make sure you have the appropriate gear, your shoes are ready for dance, water bottle, snacks are packed and ready.

TIP:  Set a reminder with an alert tone/sound on your phone to remind you to prepare you dance gear the evening before a day of dance!

    • You have arrived early for class – take a few minutes to warm up.  Jumping jacks, jog on the spot, jog the stairs (something active to increase your heart rate), and then do a few light stretches (not for flexibility) such as downward dog and a back stretch (cat/cow is great) to increase blood flow to the muscles.

OR

    • You have arrived late for class – just 5 minutes until class begins!   If you can, still take a couple of minutes to do some light stretches before diving into class.  Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and, while you are at it, have a quick glance  at your journal notes from last class to focus your mind on dance.

 

Parents:    How does this translate to younger students?

 

Positive thinking – Encourage your child to speak about dance in a positive manner.  Even when a child experiences challenges in dance, whether its behavior or technique, let them know that there are positive results to learning how to deal with such challenges.

 

Journaling – Maybe there is something that the teacher focuses on regularly  (eg. Posture) in class.  Ask your child to draw a picture of this and explain it to you.   Or, as you drive home from dance ask your dancer “what was one good thing that happened in dance today?”   “What was one thing you teacher wants you to work on in dance this week?”

 

Preparation – Have your dancer help prepare their dance bag the night before dance.  Lay out their dance clothes and pack their shoes.  Ensure that a water bottle has been packed, and if he/she takes more than one class in a day – pack a quick, energy snack for between classes.

NOTE:  Being on time for class makes a huge impact on a students’ focus, particularly when tardiness is consistent.

 

 

Teachers:  How do we teach this to students and parents?

As you already know, the role of a dance teacher is to educate both the students, and the parents.   On your parents’ day/open house/observation week, take the time to talk to parents about ways students and parents can impact progress in a studio setting.   If you have worked on any of this in class – let them know this as well.

Though this might take a few minutes of your class, your students will reap the rewards in the coming months (and parents will appreciate the proactive direction!).

Some suggestions to help spread the word to parents:

Create a poster and place it in an area where parents and students will see it.

Post something on your schools’ website or Facebook page.

Create a handout for parents’ day.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Teaching the Adult Dancer…

Photo www.saltcreekballet.wordpress.com.

Turning our attention towards the adult dancer, whether beginner or advanced students, let’s focus not only on learning and experiencing the art form, but also on developing our body & spatial awareness, and overall fitness.

Teaching adult student can be tricky task whether the teacher is younger than the student, or of a similar age.  Within one class there can be a broad age range – from twenty somethings through seventy (+) somethings, as well as a range of experience and abilities.  Consider the reasons why an individual might begin taking dance as an adult, or might continue dancing into one’s adult life.   Here are a few intentions and desires to be considered:

To continue dancing, for life!

To learn about and appreciate the art form.

To challenge oneself physically (fitness).

For the mental challenge of learning new things and ways of moving.

To experience all aspects of performance:  preparation, rehearsal, and performance.

 In addition to all of the above intentions, having fun and enjoying the process of learning is an important intention as is key to encouraging adult students to continue exploring dance and remaining active in life.

 

“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance one must keep moving.”  (Albert Einstein)

 

The adult dance class is an opportunity to teach the technique of the art form, as well as facilitate a deeper knowledge of the mechanics of dance, explore what inspires us as individuals, and encourage a healthy focus in dance (& life).  As adults we carry not only the stresses of our day into the class, we also have our insecurities as well.  The adult dance class can be an enjoyable and safe place for adult students to explore their physical and cognitive abilities through dance.

We’ve discussed the importance of the warm-up in the dance class in relationship to youth in dance, now let’s consider why its important for the adult student.

Adult classes generally occur outside of the usual workday schedule – which means either classes occur earlier in the morning or later in the evening   In the morning our muscles and joints can be stiff from inactivity, having been at rest for (hopefully) 7-8 hours, our heart rate has lowered and our bodies have been recovering to homeostatic balance.   For morning classes, taking the time to increase the heart rate gradually  increases blood flow to the muscles and tissues, while gradually moving through the joints warms the (synovial) fluids and tissues of the joints is key.

Any adult who has gone to the gym later in the evening knows that we often carry the weight and tension of our day in our muscles and joints (particularly in the upper body and neck).  We have been working against gravity throughout the day, which can have a negative affect on our posture and alignment.  By the end of the day our muscles are not necessarily ‘ready to move’ and this is perceived as stiffness in our muscles and joints.

In either case, a warm-up which is not heavily focused on technique aids in the awakening (firing) of neuromotor connections, an increase in heart rate, which in turn increases the blood flow to the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons as well.   A good warm-up also facilitates the mental preparedness of the adult student , energizing and refocusing our thoughts towards the body and its mechanics, and away from the tension and stress of the workday.

The WARM-UP is key to beginning class on an energized and positive note.   For the adult student ‘analysis to paralysis’ is a common issue and can be a de-motivating force.   Incorporating everyday, pedestrian movement that is familiar takes the focus off of perfecting technique, facilitates a quicker physical response and encourages a positive ‘can do’ attitude.   The warm-up should be non-technical, increase the heart rate, and incorporate gentle, dynamic stretches to foster pliability of the muscles and lubrication of the joints. Elements from yoga (love downward dog) and pilates (plank!) exercises can be incorporated, as well as those reliable calisthenics that we use in training and workout sessions at the gym.

Keeping the warm-up moderate in length, doing four repetitions of the warm-up provides ample time to gradually increase the tempo of the exercise.    If the warm-up begins with walking through the space using different directions, on the third and fourth repetition the walk can progress to a light jog with our without stretched feet.

Generally adult students spatial & body awareness is limited, particular for beginner students.   Incorporating the use of directions and personal space in your warm-up is an easy way to incorporate a cardiovascular element to the class.  Encouraging students to move through the space, keeping a long stride, while making an effort to move through the spaces in-between the other dancers in the room.   Agility and balance can be challenged by encouraging quick changes of direction, and in particular travelling backwards.

Rhythmical elements can be incorporated, and then referenced later in the class in a more technical manner.  For instance if the class focuses on triplets, balances, or big waltz movements across the floor, use a basic walking triplet in your warm-up.   Again, this can progress to a quicker, running triplet as tempo accelerates.   This can be a very effective way to prevent the ‘analysis to paralysis’ epidemic when learning these forms of rhythmical steps.

 

Looking for more specific ideas and progressions?

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a SAMPLE WARM-UP and other ideas for PROGRESSIONS in your inbox.

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Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Wellness via Dance

 A year ago AD4L was launched as a mode of promoting the connection between the science behind the movement (from the studies of sport & dance science) and dance teachers, students, and parents.    To further broaden the scope of health & wellness in relationship to dance the ‘tagline’ for AD4L is being updated to the following:

“Promoting health & wellness in, and through, dance.”

 

 Why the change?

Health & Wellness is no longer solely related to nutrition and how often one works out at the gym.  With the current health trends we, as educators (classroom & studio alike), need to (must) rethink how and what we promote as physical activity.

Presenting at a recent arts in education conference health & wellness panel I concluded my presentation feeling that I hadn’t shared my views specifically on how and why dance can be a method of promoting physical activity in today’s youth.

 

(this is me, getting up on my soapbox…bear with me)

 

In this teachers view, dance is one of the most malleable, flexible teaching tools available.  We have more dance classes and performing arts programs in our schools now than ever before; Preparing performances and assemblies, we also have more of these groups participating in competitions & festivals.  More provinces also have specific dance curriculum within both arts and physical education.  Isn’t that enough?

Perhaps we are limiting ourselves, and the discipline of dance.  We tend to hold dance within the boundaries of the discipline and the starkness of the studio & space setting, ultimately excluding those with less movement experience and natural ability for dance.

Everyone can connect to dance in its most basic form and structure – space, body, effort, & relationship awareness.  The beauty of approaching dance from this perspective is that it can be applied to virtually any subject– math, history, science, english/literacy, geography, physical education, music, etc.   Most importantly – this perspective of dance is also extremely adaptable to individual needs and abilities.

The recent addition of programming to AD4L (Dance-Ability programs) is based on this notion.  Taking these concepts of movement and wrapping them around more formal dance disciplines to create a dance environment which can be molded to the needs of the individual and the group.

What I wanted to say to the educators at the arts conference (gotta love hindsight)…

Let’s step away from the notion of [the joy of] dance being held captive within the boundaries and limits of the formal dance disciplines, stark studios and spaces, and bring dance [movement] into our everyday teaching.  take a moment to explore lessons through movement and encourage students to incorporate music & movement in their presentations.   Avoid leaving the task entirely up to the music & dance teachers.  Dance (& creativity) teaches students how to take a risk, to put all of your effort, creativity, and thought into a movement/performance.   Challenging ourselves as educators to bring a movement perspective to our teaching will not only bring a new dimension of learning to students, but will also provide our youth with a new lens to view the benefits of physical activity for daily life.

 

Here are some example of how using movement  more actively in our classroom teaching can affect a child’s health and perspective on wellness.

Let’s look at the dimensions of health:

 Physical:  On a physiological level, movement = increase in endorphins (which make us feel good & gives an energy boost).  When we move we take in more oxygen (energizing our blood and therefore the brain as well).  For youngsters, often this activity reinforces and creates more opportunity to develop the crucial psychomotor skills necessary to participate in all forms of physical activity (for life!).

 Emotional:   See point regarding endorphins above… increasing our energy puts us in a more positive mindset.  Dance & movement in a less formal setting reinforces positive, healthy, respectful ways to express our emotions.   Confidence and self-worth increase when we repeat this activity.

 Spiritual:  Regardless of your belief system, when we feel better about ourselves we see our world in a more positive light.  When we make this action part of our daily lives we instill this positive perspective throughout the whole of our lives – at home and at school.

 Intellectual:  Fostering active learning through the creative arts provides problem-solving (critical thinking!) challenges for students (& teachers).    Challenging our cognitive skills and encouraging the development of critical thinking.

 Social:  Children & youth of all abilities moving together, learning together, presents a myriad of social learning opportunities.  Learning to work together as a team,  being respectful of everyone’s ideas & stories, giving each participant the opportunity to contribute to the final product – all worthwhile and important social skills.

 Occupational:   Essentially being a student (at every age) is a form of occupation.  We prepare for it and spend a large part of our day doing work that is delegated to us by our teachers.  Making it an active experience makes the process much more enjoyable, and therefore going to ‘work’ is a more pleasant and enjoyable part of our day.

Happy Anniversary!

In celebration of the one year anniversary of AD4L, the September Newsletter is here!   The format has been changed slightly – the ISSUU format is very slick and allows for easy viewing and sharing.

An archive of past newsletters has been posted on our Facebook page – have a look HERE.

And, here is a sample of what is in the September 2012 newsletter – SAMPLE.

If you would like to receive our bi-monthly newsletter, follow this LINK to sign up today!

 

 

 

 

Parents and the first day of Dance class

Health and Wellness in dance encompasses a myriad of subjects, today let’s look at ways to make that first day of dance class a positive experience for your child.   In my experience, often times how a parent handles that first day (particularly with young students or when starting at a new school) has a great impact on how the child copes within a new environment, or with a new teacher.

 

The first day of dance class is filled with much excitement, particularly for the youngest students coming into our studios.  Many nerves often accompany the young dancers, and their parents as well!   In some areas it is common to have a ‘viewing window’ for parents so they can sit and observe the class from outside the studio.   And, in others it is common that the studio/teacher asks the parents to wait outside during the class.

Having taught in both situations experience has demonstrated that students are much better off if they come into the class on their own starting from the beginning of the very first class.   Parents, on the other hand, are sometimes not so happy with this decision.

To the Teachers:

It is helpful to provide a time at the END of class (the last 10-15 min.) for the parents to come into the studio and sit with their child (ages 3-8yrs).   This allows you time to get to know your students and set the ground rules/boundaries for your class, AND (perhaps most importantly) gives you the time to address the parents and explain the ground rules and boundaries to them as well.   If you want parents to back you up when it comes to discipline or issues that arise in class,  taking the time to address the parents directly is incredibly helpful.  This also allows you to properly introduce yourself (assistants & accompanists) to the parents and give them a bit of insight into your experience  (aka…building trust between teacher and parent).

To the Parents:

More often than not, you are much more nervous about your child’s first dance class than your child is themselves.   Here are a few general guidelines to follow on that exciting, first day which will help to ease anxiety for all involved:

1.  Ensure that you have the appropriate attire for your child.  Every dance school usually has specific requirements – the last thing you want is for your child to feel left out on the first day because they do not have the correct attire.   Dress code is the same as a uniform that would be worn for sports – if your child is dressed in the wrong uniform they will feel it when they go onto the ice being the only one dressed differently.   This is part of the tradition and history of dance, creates a uniform look amongst the students, and fosters a feeling of unity within the group.

Here is a great blog post from The Healthy Dancer blog about why dress code is so important:  Dress Code

2.   Ensure that your child’s hair is secure.   Again, every school has their requirements when it comes to hair.   Is a bun required?  Ponytail?  Some general guidelines –  hair should always be secured off of the face so that it does not fall out during class (distracting your child).   Boys with long hair should also pull hair back into a ponytail.  All of these options lengthen the line of the neck and allow the teacher to be able to see the alignment of the spine from the lumbar region (lower back) through to the cervical region (neck)

Here is a link to an easy to follow bun making lesson on YouTube:   Bun-making Tutorial

 3.  ARRIVE EARLY.  Especially on day one, whether you are going to a new dance school or not.  Rushing adds stress to both your experience and, most importantly, your child’s experience.

4.  The Pre-Class Bathroom Stop.   Whether they need to or not, take a moment to take care of this need beforehand.  Yes, some will need to go during class, but we do want to try to work towards not having to go during class time.  And on day one, particularly with 3-6 yr olds, if one has to go during class there is sure to be a revolving door between the studio and bathroom that day as every student in the class suddenly has to go.

5.  Viewing Windows.  Please, please, please, avoid being the parent that waves constantly at their child or tries to scold them via miming gestures during the class.   First, this is very distracting for the entire class.  Second, this is completely embarrassing for your child ( My apologies if anyone is offended…but its true!).

6.  If the teacher asks you to wait outside the studio, please do so.  Again, making your way into the class (barging in) right off the hop, in my experience,  is not going to help ease your child into the studio environment – it actually makes the process much more difficult.   Generally the child will then expect the parent to be in the class with them the following week (and weeks to come).

7. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.  If your child has any behavioural or attention issues, injuries or surgeries they are recovering from, or physical impairments of any kind – take a moment at the end of the class to SHARE THIS WITH THE TEACHER.   Too many times have teachers been left ‘out of the loop’ by well-meaning parents who do not want their child to be ‘labeled’ by the teacher.  This is understandable, but the teacher cannot provide the best environment for your child’s experience if they do not know your child’s story.

8.  If there is a place for you to sit and relax at the studio, take the time to do this on day one.  You will have a chance to meet a few parents, check out the surroundings, and ensure that you are there precisely when your child comes out of class ready to tell you what they learned!

Wishing you a wonderful start to the dance season!

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

 

Ahhhhh…soothe body and mind with Massage Therapy.

Need a boost during this hectic performance and competition season?  Book a massage with a registered massage therapist to help muscles recover from injury and performance, increase your feeling of well-being, and release tension.    Registered massage therapist Tracie Blair gives us an introduction into the benefits of massage and its influence on our nervous system.

 

We all know human touch is emotionally and physically healing.

While we’re quick to recognize this simple truth, most of us would be hard pressed to explain how or why touch can be so beneficial.  So, in the spirit of exploration, let’s take a few moments to learn what makes massage therapy so effective.

In general, when soft tissue is manipulated, beneficial effects occur both directly at the local area, and indirectly, throughout the entire body and its systems. These indirect effects are delivered through signals that are sent via the body’s nervous system.  These powerful signals help heal damaged muscle, stimulate circulation, clear waste products via the lymphatic system, boost the immune system and reduce pain and tension.

But we’re not done yet.

Reduction of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression have been shown to be among the most beneficial effects of massage therapy.  Not only is massage therapy beneficial in alleviating the physiological effects of these chronic conditions, but studies have shown it improves mental alertness and may enhance feelings of wellbeing by stimulating the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood elevators) and reducing levels of certain stress hormones.

The body’s nervous system has two main divisions — the Central Nervous System (the brain and spinal cord) and the Peripheral Nervous System. Winding its way throughout the body, the Peripheral Nervous System’s function is to carry messages to and from the Central Nervous System.  One key component of the Peripheral Nervous System is the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS governs the body’s reaction to stress through the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).

The Sympathetic Nervous System generates the “fight or flight” response, the body’s mechanism for coping with threat, danger or stress. When this response is mobilized, we can experience an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rate and increased muscle tension as the body prepares to react.  Conversely, the Parasympathetic Nervous System settles the body, conserves energy and facilitates healing. It is our very own rest and repair system.

With this knowledge and an understanding of what ails you, a trained remedial massage therapist will apply specific massage techniques designed to either relax or stimulate the autonomic nervous system. These techniques will target either the parasympathetic nervous system (to produce relaxing effects) or the sympathetic nervous system (to produce stimulating effects).

Massage can decrease heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and decrease muscle tension. Massage decreases SNS activity. Massage therapy plays a huge role in alleviation of stress and stress disorders.  By allowing a shift to the PNS or rest and repair system, massage therapy can facilitate healing, induce a feeling of calm, and promote well-being and general health.

In general, massage is believed to support healing, boost energy, reduce recovery time after an injury, ease pain and muscle tension, and enhance relaxation, mood, and well-being. It is useful for many musculoskeletal problems, such as low back pain, postural and muscle imbalances, and sprains and strains. Massage may also decrease swelling, alleviate sleep disorders, and improve self-image.

 

Author:  Tracie Blair  B.A., RMT, Dip Acup

 

 

 

 

 

10 Important Reminders: Healthy Habits for a Healthy Body

This post is intended to provide a few reminders when considering our body image.   There is no particular order to this list as each point is equally as important as  the next.   My hope is that students, parents, and teachers will take this post as  a reminder that often developing a positive body image is a group effort.   It includes not only the student, teacher, and parent – but professionals as well.  Taking steps to proactively consider students’ (your child’s) thoughts on body image and speaking to them about it can help to prevent and/or resolve potential problems in this area.

1. DO Avoid Dieting. The term invokes a thought of depriving ourselves of food (aka. nutrition and fuel).

2. DO seek healthy food choices. Remember that food is the fuel that you body needs and uses for every function – from cell and energy production to muscle contraction and breathing. Limiting your fuel intake limits the ability of your body to function.

3. DO Speak to a dietitian. If you feel that you might need to ‘lose weight’ or gain muscle – start with speaking to a dietitian. This will help you to look at where you are at with you food choices today and determine if and what food choices might be effective changes for you.

4. DO Drink Water. We have talked about it before and are saying it again. Water is essential to your health on a cellular level. It is essential for your tissues, blood, muscle, and brain function.

5. DO be wary of extreme weight loss. Teachers – if you notice that a student’s body is changing dramatically – speak to the parent. Bring your concerns to their attention. Whether the weight loss is intentional or not, speak to the parent. Recommend that medical advice be sought. Parents – this can be a difficult subject to approach, but it is crucial that you do so.

6. DO Trust the Science. There is tremendous science behind nutrition for performance athletes (sports and dance). There are a lot of fad diets out there that claim ‘amazing results’. In general, if there is a miraculous or outrageous claim being made then it is highly likely that it does not work. Yes, you might see results in the short term – but in the long term those results will most likely be impossible to maintain.   Best advice:  Trust the science – speak to professionals who work with athletes and dancers for guidance.

7. DO Accept yourself. Historically the dance world holds the ‘ideal physique’ on a pedestal – many seek to achieve this physique. We (teachers, dancers, parents) need to remind ourselves and our  young people that the body you have been given is a gift.  Genetics provides a map for our physical development, training can have a direct effect on the lines our bodies can create through dance,  accept that there are things we cannot change (genetics) and learn how best to train and fuel your body for optimum performance.

8. DO Investigate/ Research, and seek advice. Your body is your instrument. Research effective ways to improve your health, then speak to a professional before incorporating it into your lifestyle. For nutritional advice – seek out a dietitian, for conditioning advice – seek out a physiotherapist or athletic therapist, for training advice – seek out a trusted dance teacher.  A best first step is to speak to your parents and family physician.

9. DO Know that you are not alone. In today’s society young women and men are bombarded with images in the media that have been photo shopped (altered)  to fit how marketing executives want the public to view their product so that we will buy that product.  Be careful not to fall into the trap of believing that what you see in advertising is the truth.

10. DO What you love. Seeking happiness? Seeking purpose? Follow your heart. Seeking fulfillment in achieving the perfect body (in this authors view) is misdirected (or perhaps misguided) purpose. If you love dance, then dance for the joy of it. Seeking what is perceived as the ‘ideal dancers body’ is setting yourself up for disappointment and can result in extensive damage to your body.

Author:   Jacqui Davidson

Giving Your Knees the Lovin’ They Deserve

The Knee Joint – Simple Yet Complex

On the surface, the knee joint seems to be a simple “hinge” bending back and forth.  However, if you take the time to look more closely at this joint, you will discover a much more complex mechanism.

The knee is made up of 3 compartments, a medial (inner) compartment, a lateral (outer) compartment and an anterior (front) compartment.  This anterior compartment is another joint called the patello-femoral joint (knee cap).  The bones that form this joint are the femur above, tibia below and the patella (knee cap) in front.

The knee joint has very little boney stability and relies a great deal on the ligaments, cartilage and muscles to provide the stability of this joint.  Movement is produced by 2 key muscle groups, the Quadriceps (front of thigh), which extend the knee and the Hamstrings (at the back of the thigh) that bends the knee.  The superficial calf muscle (Gastrocnemius) also crosses the back of the knee joint and is involved in bending the knee at times.

The cartilage or menisci are half moon-shaped structures which sit on top of the tibia in the medial and lateral compartments.  They serve as shock absorbers and also deepen the joint to provide more stability and keep the femur from sliding off the tibia.  2 key ligaments inside the joint are the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.  The anterior cruciate ligament keeps the knee from hyperextending and from rotating too much internally while the posterior cruciate essentially does the opposite.  Two ligaments exist outside the joint and are called the collateral ligaments.  There is a medial (inner) collateral which prevents your tibia from bending sideways laterally and the lateral (outer) collateral which prevents your tibia from bending sideways medially. The collateral ligaments are more commonly injured than the cruciate ligaments.

The patello-femoral joint acts as a pulley system for your Quadriceps muscle.  The patella is imbedded in the Quadriceps tendon and attached to the tibia below through the patellar tendon.  This gives your Quadriceps a better mechanical advantage to work with your knee as it bends.  It is also important for the inner and outer fibers of your Quadriceps to work in balance to keep the patella tracking properly.  Patello-femoral joint irritation and pain is common when this imbalance exists.  Your Quadriceps also performs an important role in jumping by contracting concentrically while it aids in softening landings by contracting eccentrically.

The Hamstring muscles (of which there are three two inner and one outer) bend or flex the knee joint and help extend the hip along with the gluteal muscles.  They also act as a “dynamic” anterior cruciate ligament and help to keep the tibia from sliding forward off of the femur.

These are the key structures of the knee joint that must work together to allow for normal operation of the joint under the large loads and stresses we put the joint through daily with all our activities.  Dancing, of course, places huge demands on this joint and with the use of good technique and proper training in and out of the studio we can keep the joint healthy and lower the risk of injury.

 

How can I apply this to my teaching/dancing?

ALIGNMENT IS KEY!   

  • Remember the aligning our dots exercise?   Postural and pelvic alignment has a direct effect on knee alignment – start from the feet and work your way up when assessing knee alignment.

Invest time in teaching proper alignment

  • When working in ‘turned out’ or parallel positions, ensure that the knees are moving in alignment with the feet and hips.  For some this will be a challenge, but its a worthwhile investment of your time.  The investment will pay off tenfold when you see that your students are able to self-correct.

It IS about efficient and effective movement.

  • Teach students to work within their own physical ability.   Students are not built from a cookie cutter method (all physiques the same).  Take the time to look at students’ physique and guide them to work within their own unique physique (encourage individuality!).   This will optimize the efficiency of their movement, training more effective and efficient movement patterns over time.

Talk about the anatomy of movement with your teen and adult students.    

  • First, it is important that they have an understanding of why it is important to work within their own physique.  Second, experience indicates that this gives them a deeper understanding and awareness of their bodies, which then translates into a more thoughtful work ethic in studio.

Be willing to adapt.

  • No dance form or teaching method is perfect for every – body.   Find ways to adapt tried and true methods to suit the bodies that you are teaching.

It is not about today.

  • All of this awareness and prevention is less about preventing an injury today or tomorrow, and more about preventing injury over time.   Whether dancing, walking, or running indoors/outdoors, improper alignment of the knees causes friction and wear in places where it is not meant to occur.  In the long-term this can translate into worn out cartilage, meniscus damage, ligament damage, and chronic knee pain.

Remember that “An ounce of prevention = a pound of cure”.

Authors:   Sam Steinfeld, Kevin Dyck & Janine Didyk, RWB Physiotherapy Team (article) and Jacqui Davidson, Founder AD4L (teaching considerations)